4: the smallest recorded national pupil statistic in Education?

You don’t often find numbers below 10 in DfE statistics, as there is usually too much of a risk that individual pupils could be identified. However, such small numbers can and do crop up from time to time. One such is in table 5 of this year’s statistics about schools and their pupils. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019

The largest number in this Table is 4,716,244 – the number of pupils in state-funded primary schools counted in the January 2019 census. The smallest number is just four (4). This is the number of pupils of the Chinese ethnic group recorded as in Pupil Referral Units. In 2018, the number was five (5).

Apart from in Local Authority Alternative Provision, the percentage of minority Ethnic Pupils is greater in 2019 than it was in 2018. The increase was less in the primary sector, up from 33.1 to 33.5 than in the secondary sector, up from 30.3 to 31.3.

Interestingly, the ‘Black’ group as a whole registered no change in their share of the primary school population; steady at 5.5%, whereas the Asian Group that are mostly from the Indian sub-continent increased from 11.1% to 11.2%. Pupils of any other White background other than White British; Irish and the traveller and the Roma communities, increased from 7.1% to 7.3% making them the second largest sub-group in the primary sector.

With the downturn in admissions at the entry level of the primary school, it is interesting to ask whether birth rates are falling across all ethnic groups. Certainly, the difference in the total percentage of pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds between the primary and secondary sectors that was 2.8 in 2018, is now 2.2 in 2019.

Pupils from the Black ethnic group continue to be over-represented in both special schools and pupil referral units, although not in local authority alternative provision. However, the percentage of Back pupils in PRUs fell from 7.2% of pupils in such units in 2018, to 6.8% in 2019, against a percentage of 6.0% in the secondary sector from where most, but not all, PRU pupils have come from.

In numerical terms, the number of Black pupils in PRUs declined from 1,205 in 2018 to 1,104 in 2019. However, some might now be in alternative provision settings rather than in PRUs. Of course, there is no information about the scale of the off-rolling of pupils over the past year, and thus the ethnic backgrounds of pupils that have been taken off school rolls.

I suspect that the ethnic group labelled as ‘Mixed’ may well see the largest increases over the next few years as society becomes more diverse in nature. There are now around half a million pupil classified as from the ‘Mixed’ ethnic group in schools across England.

Almost one in five pupils in primary schools does not have English as their first language, although the total doesn’t identify the skewed distribution that can be found across England, with some schools teaching pupils that speak many different languages at home. This can be a real challenge to some less well funded primary schools. There is also the question as to whether the State should fund any first language tuition for these pupils or whether that is solely the responsibility of the family?

 

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Class sizes on the increase

Increasing pupil numbers and pressure on funding , it seems, having an effect on class sizes in the secondary sector. Last week’s DfE data https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2019 revealed that the percentage of classes in the secondary sector with more than 30 pupils in them was, at 8.4% of classes, at its highest percentage since before 2006 and the fifth straight year to have recorded an increase. Some 13% of pupils were being taught in classes of more than 30 in January 2019. By comparison, in 2014 it was just 9.4% of pupils.

With more increases in pupil number over the next few years, this percentage of pupils in classes of over 30 pupils seems destined to increase even further, unless more funding can be found from the magic money tree called The Tresury.

Almost the same percentage of pupils in the primary sector were also being taught in these ‘large’ classes. The classes are mostly at Key Stage 2. This is because of the Blunkett limit of 30 pupils that applies to most Key Stage 1 classes. Indeed, the 18.1% of Key Stage 2 pupils in classes of more than 30 is a record percentage since at least 2010 and probably for a longer period as well. Hopefully, these children will find themselves in smaller classes when they move on to a secondary school.

Large numbers of pupils in classes means more time is required for assessment and preparation by teachers if the different needs of every child are to be adequately catered for. This may well be adding to the pressure teachers’ face from workload that must be undertaken during term-time.

The average Key Stage 2 class in England has some 27.9 pupils in it. The range is from Trafford, in Greater Manchester, where the average is 29.7 to Redcar & Cleveland in the North East, where the average is some 5.2 pupils per teacher fewer at 24.2 pupils in the average Key Stage 2 class.

Four of the lowest five areas with the best averages for Key Stage 2 class size are in the North East and the fifth, Cumbria is also in the North of England. Some boroughs in Inner London also manage to achieve among the lowest average class sizes at Key Stage2. By contrast, urban authorities in the North West and the Midlands feature among authorities with the highest average class sizes at Key Stage 2.

Some local authority areas in the North West have always had large classes and some of the worst pupil teacher ratios in the primary sector ever since I first started looking at such statistics in the mid-1970s, when the present pattern of local government in the urban areas outside of London was established. Hopefully, the new funding formula will help to further reduce the disparity between the best and the worst authorities, although other factors may intervene to prevent an entirely level playing field, such as the age and experience of the teaching staff.

Good news on absence rates

More than a quarter of pupils in primary and secondary schools didn’t take any time off from school during the autumn term of 2018 according to recent DfE figures https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-term-2018

The most common reasons for absence was reported as illness, followed by attendance at medical, dental or presumably opticians appointments (although this last one isn’t specified). Could more be done to look at how these appointments are organised, particularly for certain key year groups? Should receptionists be required to ask the Year Group of a child when booking an appointment and recognise the importance of certain times in a young person’s education and, if possible, take this into account?

Overall absence rates for 2018 were lower than in either of the previous two years, at 71.6% of enrolments, compared with 74.3% in 2016. Of course, last winter was relatively mild and not especially wet across most of England, and the weather may play a part in determining the level of these figures. It must be easier to go to school when the sun is out than on a cold foggy morning if you feel a bit down and are faced with the prospect of wait at the bus stop in the drizzle.

It might be interesting to see if there is any correlation with the weather and days of the week and absence rates?

The dates of specific religious festivals that move around the calendar obviously have an effect upon attendance rates, as these figures show. In 2016, such absences counted for a notable amount of the authorised absences, whereas in 2018 the figure was negligible.

Holidays in term time remain contentious, with the percentage of unauthorised such holiday several times higher than the agreed holidays figure. Such unauthorised holidays are more common in the primary sector, when family structures and children’s ages presumably make the desire for a family holiday greater than during the period when pressure on studying for exams is greater.

However, it would be interesting to see a figure for voluntary attendance on Saturdays to counter balance this negative view of time lost by pupils. I am increasingly overwhelmed by the number of pupils and teachers that take time to attend when they don’t have to do so. This despite the obvious concerns over teacher workload. Again, this voluntary service needs more notice than it receives outside of the profession.

Next time someone talks of the long holidays that teachers have, ask them when they last went into work on a Saturday or did a voluntary extra shift to help their customers?

There is still a worrying percentage of pupils being excluded with no alternative provision being made, even in the autumn term. Regional School Commissioners need to ask academies how much they are contributing to this figure.

Finally, after two years when the number was on the increase, there was a welcome fall in the number of pupils classified as persistent absentees. At 10.9% of enrolments it still marks a waste of talent and is helping to store up problems for the future. But, at least the figure is lower than in both 2016 and 2017.

 

 

As predicted: more pupils than last year

Over 2.3 million pupils are in being taught in academies or one type of another (72.3% of all secondary school pupils) along with over 1.4 million in primary schools (29.7% of all primary school pupils). These numbers were released yesterday by the DfE as part of their annual assessment of schools ad their pupils. This information has appeared somewhat earlier than expect; it was scheduled to appear in June. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/719226/Schools_Pupils_and_their_Characteristics_2018_Main_Text.pdf

The trend towards declining pupil numbers  at the lower end of the primary age range, and growing numbers at Year 7 in the secondary sector, is now clear to see from these figures and will come as no surprise to those that follow the data about schools and their pupils.

Overall, however, the number of pupils in state funded primary schools rose – as it has since 2009 – although at a slower rate than in recent years. There are 26,600 more pupils than in 2017, and 101,100 more since the 2016 census. The number of pupils in state funded secondary schools rose for the fourth year in a row by around 35,000, and in 2018 had a greater increase in population than primary schools.

There was some consolidation in the primary sector resulting in a net decrease of 20 state-funded primary schools, whereas in the secondary sector there was a net increase of 28 state-funded schools.

All-age schools once looked on askance, not least by the 1944 Education Act that outlawed them by requiring a break at eleven, are still on the increase, albeit perhaps at a slower rate than previously. In January 2017 there were 150 such schools, but this figure has increased to 163 state-funded schools in January 2018. Some of these are ‘free schools’, the most misnamed designation ever invented for a type of school.

As the economy has continued to create more jobs, especially for women, the continued fall in the number of registered pupils for free school meals is not a complete surprise. However, there is still anxiety that the universal free school meals policy for infants is affecting registration for free school meals, causing some schools to lose funding through the Pupil Premium. The issue of funding for deprivation and how it is used by schools is now overdue for a review as all schools will shortly feel the full effect of FSM+6 on their budgets. Perhaps the Social Mobility Commission might like to consider this issue.

A third of all pupils in the primary sector now come from what is classified as an ethnic background, although that includes nearly eight per cent from White non-British backgrounds. Just over one in ten pupils are from Asian background, and one in twenty from ‘Black’ backgrounds.  Slightly more than one in twenty are described as, of ‘mixed’ backgrounds, and this category is likely to increase over the coming years.

Fewer than one in twenty infants were in over-size classes of more than 30, with the majority being in classes of 31. As intakes have reduced in size, so has the issue of over-size classes for infants. Over the next few years, large classes are more likely to be a growing problem for secondary schools unless funding, especially for 16-18 improves.

 

Install sprinkler systems

This blog discussed the issue of installing sprinkler system in new schools in a post that was dated 28th August 2016. At that time, the government was considering relaxing the rules about the installation of such systems.

There was a BBC new report over the weekend https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47923843 citing a study by the Fire Brigades Union using data obtained following a question from Labour MP and former teacher Stephanie Peacock. She found that 105 of the 673 schools built and open by February were fitted with sprinklers. Not surprisingly, the fact that only 15% of new build schools were fitted with sprinkler system has rightly raised concerns.

Some of these schools are likely to be single storey primary schools with good means of evacuation in the event of a fire. However, some will be secondary schools with more than one storey and it is hoped that all of these will have had sprinkler system installed. However, there is no requirement for private schools to install sprinkler systems even when higher risk activities, such as laboratories are located on upper floors.

There are two reasons for installing sprinkler systems, the risk to life and limb and the risk to property.  According to official figures, there were no fatalities from school fires in the eight years up to 2017/18, but there were 244 casualties. The lack of fatalities wouldn’t be used in any other circumstances for scaling back on safety measures, and it shouldn’t be when constructing new school buildings.

However, the risk to property is an equally important reason for installing sprinkler systems in schools of all types. Arson rarely happens when schools are occupied, and often takes place at night. Water damage, although distressing, can be much less costly and disruptive than a building burning down. Even if academies are externally insured for their buildings, the disruption to children’s education is something that should be avoided.

Whether you call it ‘invest to save’ or ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, I am with those that think almost all schools should have sprinkler systems installed. When local authorities carry the risk on their own books, this is an even more important choice as not only are there re-building costs but there may also be significant transport charges moving pupils to other schools.

The most important reasons is that pupil’s education should not be disrupted. Even though coursework is of less importance than it was previously in our examination system, loss of work can affect a child’s progress.

Sprinkler system may not be cheap, but they are a good investment. The government should review the rules over school building to make these system mandatory unless there is a good reason not to install them. They should also ask whether private schools need to be required to take measures when building new schools or extensions above a single storey in height.

 

We cannot ignore those left behind

This post was prompted by two event. Firstly, someone reading my post of the 15th June 2017 on this blog, entitled Class rules: not OK, about a report issued by the Social Mobility Commission, and secondly, by some recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported in the Oxford Mail. That data revealed that in the area of North Oxford I represent on the county council women can expect to live up to eleven years longer than women living in some parts of the east of the City.

Both of these facts reminded me of the issue of deprivation, and the role that education can, could and should play in helping improve the life chances of everyone in society. Over the years, since fresh thinking began to appear after the paralysis of the Second World War, and its aftermath, there have been various schemes aimed at reducing the effects of deprivation on schooling. These have included, Education Priority Areas, Schools of Exceptional Difficulty; Education Action Zones, and currently, Education Opportunity Areas. In the same time period funding for schooling has shifted from a local matter, topped up by grants from Westminster, to a national formula assisted by the Pupil Premium for some children, with different arrangements for those designed as SEND pupils.

Have any of these interventions made much difference? The interesting point about all the schemes listed in the previous paragraph was that they were determined at a national level. There was also a time during the period when the market was seen as the dominant narrative in policy-making when there were few schemes specifically aimed at the disadvantaged areas of England.

So, what would I do if I had the chance? Teachers are important. For without teachers both determined to work in these areas of deprivation and with an understanding of the children and their families that live there, no progress will be made. When there are teacher shortages, challenging schools find staffing difficult and turnover a real problem, as those that do come to work in these schools often don’t stay very long. Well-designed local training programmes crafted between schools and higher education can help, and will certainly reduce the lack of preparation some new teachers feel when joining these schools that are so unfamiliar to them. Good leadership is also very important, and I worry about the development of both middle and senior leadership for these challenging schools in the present climate. But without staff, no changes are possible.

Then, of equal importance, there is the curriculum. Yes, reading and writing are important, but so is a balanced curriculum, especially in the secondary school. We need a curriculum that increasingly involves the learner in choosing rather than being told what to learn. Of course, you cannot choose to learn to break the law, but you may want to learn a more practical set of skills than the current EBacc permits. To demotivate and even alienate from learning young people both now, and probably in the future, through an inappropriate curriculum is a as great a failure of our politicians than the current shambles over Brexit.

Finally, we need to engage the parents that the system failed. Unless we do, they won’t help break the cycle of deprivation. As an earlier post showed, the relationship between persistent absence and deprivation is stark. If education for all really is important for our future as a society, then we have to break down this cycle that is repeating itself between the generations.

All this takes cash, and with rising pupil numbers and a lack of political will to increase taxation, it is difficult to see where the resources will come from. Perhaps, through greater use of modern technology?

What’s the collective noun for a group of schools?

How many angels can you gather on the head of a pin? How many words can you inscribe on the back of a postage stamp? Along with raffle prizes about either how many sweets there are in the bottle or undergraduates in a phone box – note for younger readers, phone boxes were largely red sites for fixed landline telephones. Unlike police boxes they have yet to be immortalised in a hit TV series, but appear regularly in period dramas and old films. The K1 design is an ionic British deign classic of the 1930s.

Anyway, enough of nostalgia and factoids, the purpose of this introduction is to lead into a consideration of how many secondary schools will be located in my County Council division in North Oxford by September 2019? This week, the temporary home for Oxford’s new secondary free school, the Swan School, was announced as being on the south side of the Marston Ferry Road, just inside my division and almost next door to the excising Cherwell School. In 2020, or more likely 2021, the Swan School will move eastwards to it permanent home at the other end of the road, assuming pupil number post-Brexit require an extra school in Oxford.

However, the potential arrival of the Swan School to join the Cherwell School, both part of the River Learning Trust MAT, even on a temporary basis, set me thinking about how many schools with pupils of secondary school age were congregated in the small patch of north Oxford that I represent on the County Council? At the last count, the total for September 2019 will be eight schools, with an ninth just outside the boundary of the division.

In total, according to DfE figures and including the 120 new Swan School pupils, this will mean about 4,000 pupils are educated at schools containing secondary age pupils and located in my Division. Add in the school just outside the boundary and the total is heading towards the 4,500 figure.

Of course, since two are preparatory schools and others of the six private schools have pupils younger than eleven on roll, so the actual number of secondary age pupils is lower than the overall total for pupil numbers on roll. At least four of the schools also have boarders, so the number arriving and leaving each day is also somewhat less than the overall total. Still it does create pressure on the road system. This is despite fact that some of the private schools arrange for coaches to pick up some pupils and The Cherwell School is feted as having the largest proportion of pupils of any secondary school that cycle to school each day.

Does eight secondary schools, all located in one county division, count as some sort of record? Would it justify an entry into the record books? I would be interested to hear of anyone that has more secondary schools in one electoral division for a Councillor. Some MPs will have more such schools, but few many have such a diverse range.

Finally, there are also two state primary schools within my division, and also nurseries, childminders and other provision for the under-fives, plus a couple of Oxford Universities colleges. Perhaps it is a good thing that I have such an interest in education.